"Those who did this are like savage machines intent on harvesting souls and killing all bright minds."

The scale of the misery in Baghdad is almost beyond comprehension. The daily death tolls don’t often register with me an any meaningful way — and I suspect I’m not alone. But for all of us, there are moments when a particular detail makes it easier to identify with the horror. From The New York Times (“Baghdad Car Bomb Kills 20 on Booksellers’ Row,” by Edward Wong and Wissam A. Habeeb):

BAGHDAD, March 5 – The book market along Mutanabi Street was a throwback to the Baghdad of old, the days of students browsing for texts, turbaned clerics hunting down religious tomes and cafe intellectuals debating politics over backgammon.

Somehow it survived the war, until Monday, when a powerful suicide car bomb hit the market, slicing through the heart of the capital’s intellectual scene. It killed at least 20 people and wounded more than 65.

In the hours after the noontime explosion, books and stationery, some tied in charred bundles, littered the block. Plumes of black smoke billowed above ornate buildings dating to the Ottoman Empire. The storied Shahbandar cafe, where elderly writers puffed away the afternoon on water pipes, lay in ruins.

I’m not sure we have an equivalent to the Baghdad book market, but imagine a car bomb going off in Charing Cross Road, or outside the Strand.

"There are no Americans or Iraqi politicians here – there are only Iraqi intellectuals who represent themselves and their homeland, plus stationery and book dealers," said Abdul Baqi Faidhullah, 61, a poet who frequently visits the street. "Those who did this are like savage machines intent on harvesting souls and killing all bright minds."

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Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix (2011). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

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